I-81 coalition seeks to address safety and congestion issues

April 1, 2010

A group called the Interstate 81 Corridor Coalition held a workshop recently at Shippensburg University to discuss how to clear crashes safely and quickly.  It was the first workshop for this relatively new organization.

PHIA applauds the founders of this six-state coalition, as well as the goal of the workshop.  Highway safety has been a core value of PHIA since our creation 50 years ago.

The coalition is composed of local, regional, and state organizations that are interested in sound transportation planning.  They include governments, private sector and non-profit entities.  The coalition was established to improve freight and passenger movement through the 855-mile corridor through the sharing of information and coordinated decision making, management and operations.

It has been estimated that about 12 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product travels along the road.  Concerns about air quality and safety issues have emerged in recent years as truck traffic has increased, and projections call for truck traffic to increase even more in the coming years. 

In Virginia, for example, as much as 40 percent of the traffic on I-81 is made up of trucks on a highway designed to carry no more than 15 percent truck traffic, and traffic is projected to increase 67 percent over the next decade.

In Pennsylvania, the southern-most portion of I-81 has become a rail-to-truck hub for goods and materials coming through East Coast seaports, but traffic congestion is beginning to impede further expansion.

Many are beginning to call for expanding the capacity of I-81, perhaps with truck-only lanes and by improving the railways that occupy the corridor as well. 

“I-81 is a microcosm of the dilemma with the nation’s highway system,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.  “It’s part of a 50-year-old highway network whose traffic has far exceeded the capacity it was designed for.  Unless we find ways to relieve congestion, we will lose opportunities for economic development.

“Crash management is certainly a worthwhile subject to address, particularly as it relates to the safety of motorists and emergency responders.  Unfortunately, no level of improvement in clearing accidents will be enough to solve the congestion problem, which is one of the factors that causes accidents in the first place.”

For more information about the coalition, click here.

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